Sapakoff: Prudent Jameis Winston answer? Trust the Heisman Trust

  • Posted: Wednesday, December 4, 2013 3:46 p.m., Updated: Wednesday, December 4, 2013 6:02 p.m.
Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston looked like a Heisman winner at Clemson in October

If Jameis Winston is charged with sexual assault during an official law enforcement news briefing scheduled for Thursday, it doesn’t mean he will be convicted.

If the incredibly skilled Florida State quarterback is not charged, it’s still possible something troubling happened in a Tallahassee apartment exactly one year ago Saturday.

Contrary to popular belief, the Heisman Trophy is not just about football. This from the mission statement: “The Heisman Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity … The Heisman Trust ensures the continuation and integrity of this award.”

Heisman votes are due Monday, and the winner is announced in New York City on Dec. 14.

What we do know:

- Jameis Winston, judged by standard football evaluation techniques, probably should get any trophy given to the best player in college football. He certainly deserves unanimous inclusion among the top three candidates.

- The alleged victim’s family has released a statement saying she was raped.

- Winston’s attorney said Winston denies the assault charges but admits his client had consensual sex with the woman.

- Heisman voters are conflicted, and many will remain so regardless of what happens Thursday in Tallahassee.

- Reasonable people can disagree.

Stewards of ‘integrity’

As the Heisman’s South Carolina state representative, I have heard from many of the 23 voters in our state and from those in other states. This isn’t the old-school Charles Woodson vs. Peyton Manning debate. It might be easier had A.J. McCarron, Johnny Manziel or Marcus Mariota taken advantage of November opportunities.

If the Winston matter is not resolved, I’m tempted to go with Aaron Murray. The Georgia senior quarterback is a deserving candidate regardless of Winston’s legal status; Murray ranks fourth in the nation in ESPN’s comprehensive QBR crunch, faced five foes in the BCS top 15 and had to improvise through major Georgia’s injuries.

But the prudent answer for restless Heisman voters is always this: Trust the Heisman Trust. The stewards of the most prestigious award in American sports are highly likely to do the right thing, and seem more reliable than the state of Florida’s strangely long investigation process. Remember, this is the state that brought us sinkholes, the Trayvon Martin case, space shuttle mishaps, pythons in the Everglades, hanging chads, Elian Gonzalez and Sea World trainer-eating killer whales.

Things in Florida don’t always go as expected.

Worse than football

It’s hard to imagine Winston keeping the Heisman if convicted. A spring re-vote seems plausible, though in such a sordid situation any second-place finisher elevated to trophy status is tainted. There is no official Heisman listing for 2005, the year Reggie Bush won but had his honor taken away after he was implicated in NCAA sanctions against Southern Cal.

There are worse problems at colleges these days than Heisman dilemmas. Campus sexual assaults often go unreported and are typically difficult to prosecute. The Clery Act requires schools to report campus sexual assault statistics to the Department of Education, but some schools balk. Updated protection muscle for our daughters, sisters and moms was required with passage of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act in 2013.

Jameis Winston is not guilty, not even charged.

If charged, he might not be convicted.

Alas, legal resolutions might not meet football deadlines.

But we can hope — hope that the 2013 Heisman Trophy race shines positive impact on a campus problem bigger than football.



Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff

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